Nursing Covers and Formula Marketing at Baby Expo
Posted on 25 May 2016
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is in no way a judgment or criticism of women who use nursing covers and/or formula. We support ALL mothers and ALL of the informed choices mothers make when it comes to feeding their babies. This blog post is solely about the way I experienced the marketing of nursing covers and formula in the booths near me at the New York Baby Show.
A week and a half ago, I showed Nourish Nursing at The New York Baby Show, which was my first expo. I'm the kind of person who likes to dive right into something. I didn't start out by getting my bearings and some experience under my belt by showing at a small local baby expo. That would make too much sense! Nope, I dove right in and showed for the first time at the largest baby expo in the country! Getting ready for the show was both highly exciting and nearly panic-attack inducing. The experience of being at the show was energizing and extremely tiresome. Did I mention that I had my 8 month old with me the whole time? I breastfeed, entertained, and/or wore him during a 4 hour set-up that included heavy manual labor, two 8 hour days of showing the line to almost 5,000 people, and then the breakdown after the show.
I really enjoyed the experience of the New York Baby Show. I made a few sales, met a TON of really great moms and mom-to-be, and made some great business contacts that will hopefully lead to bigger things for Nourish Nursing in the near future. I did, however, have a sour taste in my mouth due to the marketing antics of two booths in my vicinity.
As we were setting up, my sister and I realized that we were right next-door to a booth selling nursing covers. As I set up my massive banner that features my sisters and I surrounded by our children while breastfeeding in Nourish Nursing clothes and arranged my vast collection of pictures featuring my real mom models breastfeeding their children of various ages in Nourish Nursing clothes, I excitedly told the mother-daughter team that it was PERFECT that we were set up next to each other, since we shared the same customer but were in no way competing. They weren't so excited. I was confused.
As my sister and I finished setting up the day before the show opened (and by that, I mean after I finished lashing out about how horrible everything looked while my sister calmly took it, knowing that's my "process" and reassured me that everything looked great and I would see it with fresh eyes in the morning and agree), I freaked out for the company who would be showing diagonally across from me. "HOW ARE THEY NOT EVEN HERE SETTING UP? DON'T THEY EVEN CARE?!" The next morning, a woman and her teenagers rolled in and began to haphazardly set up. They had no signage. No banners. No pretty pictures. All they had was a massive stack of boxes. My sister and I tried to act casual as we peered with uncontainable curiosity as they opened their boxes and revealed... formula. Huge canisters of formula. A seemingly endless supply of formula for the taking.
The show opened on the first day, and thousands and thousands of people poured in. There was mass hysteria at the formula booth, because, HELLO - free formula! Pregnant mothers to be walked by my booth holding entire boxes of formula. There was no limit to how much they could take. My sister and I couldn't believe it. "How can they afford to give away so much formula to so many people," we wondered. We quickly answered our own question. "Once you get a mom hooked on formula, they will spend almost $1,200 per year on formula."
Now, I accept that not all women want to breastfeed, or breastfeed exclusively. Of course there is a very small population of women who physically can't breastfeed. Thankfully we have formula for those mothers and babies! What I can not stand is the marketing of formula. Yes, there is a huge difference between marketing formula at a doctor's office or hospital (don't even get me started...) and marketing formula at a baby expo where moms and moms-to-be are going to buy baby products, but the marketing tactics this formula company used were horrible. "This formula is specifically for breastfeeding moms," we heard them yell. Here is some information I found on this particular formula for supplementing from ChadHayesMD.com, a website dedicated to "demystifying pediatrics":
"Enfamil Newborn vs. Enfamil for Supplementing: Enfamil for Supplementing has a slightly higher protein/carbohydrate ratio, and lower linoleic acid. It contains slightly more sodium, calcium, and phosphorus. It has a higher vitamin D content that Enfamil Infant, but the same as Enfamil Newborn. Enfamil for Supplementing has a lower lactose concentration, and the majority of the carbohydrates come from corn syrup. I’m not sure how this relates to supplementing.
Overall, these differences are very minor–almost certainly not enough to justify a seperate product, unless it allows you to compete for a larger market share. It would probably be better if all formulas contained more vitamin D, but if that’s a concern, you can add it yourself. And if the goal of formula is to replicate breast milk, why would infants who are partially breastfeed need a different formula? There’s nothing wrong with these formulas, but don’t fall for the marketing hype." http://www.chadhayesmd.com/formula/
I have no problem with women who plan to supplement with formula before their baby is born. What I do have a problem with is formula companies flat out telling women who plan to breastfeed that they should take samples of this formula specifically designed for breastfed babies before their babies are born. It is, in my opinion, an unethical "booby trap," designed to make mothers question their ability to breastfeed. Breastfeeding success depends on a "supply and demand" relationship, especially in the very early days of breastfeeding. Your baby places the demand by nursing frequently, and your body creates the supply based on the baby's demand. The more a baby nurses, the more milk your body creates. Introducing formula, especially in the first days of breastfeeding, decreases the the time your baby spends at the breast, which in turn decreases the mother's milk supply. The "Take it, just in case," approach I witnessed at the baby expo undermines our confidence in our bodies to make enough milk to sustain our babies.
Formula companies also provide breastfeeding mothers with conflicting information. Enfamil has a section on their website called "Breastfeeding Tips and Choosing to Supplement." (http://www.enfamil.com/articles-and-videos/feeding-resources-center/supplementing/breastfeeding-tips-and-choosing) Before diving into good advice about establishing milk supply before introducing formula, they write: "If you're weighing the decision to supplement your baby's diet with formula -- for extra nutrition, back-to-work flexibility, or to give dad and other caregivers a hand in feeding -- the first thing you should know is you're not alone. A recent consumer tracking study found that 9 out of every 10 new mothers use formula at some point during their baby's first year. Now that you know you're in excellent company, read on:" While I think it's great to assuage any guilt a mother may have in choosing to supplement with formula, I feel that these statements are being used as a way to communicate the following erroneous messages: "Breastmilk is not enough for your baby - he needs extra nutrition. Pumping when you go back to work is too hard. You need formula. Breastfeeding is too hard, time consuming, and unpleasant. You need formula so other people can feed the baby. 9 out of 10 mothers couldn't produce enough milk, so chances are you won't either."
Enfamil's good breastfeeding advice is also undermined by their advertising campaigns, some of which include the following quotes:
"Feeding issues can be tough. Addressing them can be easy." (Which implies, "Breastfeeding is hard. Formula is easy.")
"When mothers can't breastfeed." (Which implies, "Being unable to breastfeed is a very common problem," when it actually is not as common as formula companies want you to believe.)
"What a baby needs." (Which implies, "Breastfeeding is not enough. Your baby needs formula.")
"For a healthy baby indeed." (Which implies, "Healthy babies need more than breastmilk," or "Formula is as healthy as breastmilk.")
"Enfamil has fatty acids found in breast milk such as ARA and DHA for baby growth." (Which implies, "Formula has the exact same nutrients as breastmilk," when in reality they are synthetic versions of JUST A FEW of the nutrients found in nature's most perfect food for infants.)
The packaging on the Enamel formula for supplementing says, "DHA and Choline - brain-nourishing nutrients also found in breastmilk." ALSO FOUND IN BREASTMILK? These words were carefully chosen to make it sound like this is the SAME DHA and choline found in breastmilk, when actually it is a man-made imitation of nature's most perfect food source. The wording also makes it seem like they are saying "breastmilk also contains these important nutrients found in this formula," rather than, "We are trying to replicate these essential nutrients found in breastmilk."
I proudly identify as a lactivist. Before my baby was born, I read all 700+ pages in my copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding." I took a breastfeeding class, bought a breast pump and nursing bras, and quickly shot down anyone who suggested that I might fail, or gently told me, "There's nothing wrong with supplementing with formula." That's all true, but there's no reason to tell a mother who is planning to exclusively breastfeed that it might not happen. I bought the bottles that were specifically designed for easy transition between breastfeeding and drinking pumped breastmilk for when I returned to work. I outlawed pacifiers to minimize nipple confusion. I proudly told everyone that I would not only do it, but that I couldn't wait to breastfeed. One day, a large canister of formula appeared on my doorstep. Incredulously, I yelled, "How did they find me? How dare they send me formula?! This is an outrage." My book told me not to keep formula in the house because it may make it too easy to fall back on it during the difficult first days of breastfeeding, and even just one use of formula that early can sabotage the exclusive breastfeeding relationship. I angrily slammed the canister in the trash can, and slammed the trash can shut. Ten minutes later, I fished that damn canister out of the trash and put it in my cabinet on the highest shelf where it wasn't easily reached, but it was there, "just in case." If they can get to someone like me with their professional doubt-casting, imagine what they are doing to the average mother.
While I expect these anti-breastfeeding antics from a formula company, I was completely shocked and appalled to hear anti-breastfeeding antics from a nursing cover company. Remember before my formula rant when I wrote that I was surprised that the nursing cover team didn't seem excited to be placed near my breastfeeding display? When the show started, it all made sense. Their main sales pitch to these new moms and moms-to-be who planned to breastfeed was, "Breastfeeding is great, but you don't want to just let it all hang out." But? BUT?!!! ANYONE WHO SAYS THEY SUPPORT BREASTFEEDING, "BUT..." DOESN'T SUPPORT BREASTFEEDING. I completely understand that some women prefer to breastfeed with nursing covers. Hell, I used to be one of those women! I have always had a complicated relationship with my breasts and breasts in general, and could NEVER IMAGINE breastfeeding in public without a cover until I tried it. I realized that breastfeeding in public wasn't scary. That my baby wouldn't nurse with a cover. That I didn't actually care if anyone saw me breastfeeding in public, or what they could or couldn't see. IT WAS SO EMPOWERING. There is absolutely nothing wrong with breastfeeding with a cover, just as there is absolutely nothing wrong with breastfeeding without a cover. I do, however, have a major problem with a company who seems to be supporting breastfeeding and breastfeeding mothers using the words "but you don't want to let it all hang out." That isn't supporting breastfeeding - it is body shaming. It is antifeminist to police how women use their bodies and to regulate how much they show while breastfeeding, and to make them nervous or embarrassed about showing their breasts while tending to their baby's most basic needs. For moms who have never breastfed and may be nervous, it is undermining their confidence and setting them up to believe that they will be harassed if they breastfeed in public. It is putting down women who breastfeed in public without covering up, and pinning women against each other. There is enough anti-breastfeeding ridiculousness in this country - we shouldn't have any more coming from within the breastfeeding industry!
I loved being a part of the New York Baby Show. I loved showing my line to excited moms and moms-to-be and sharing various breastfeeding and parenting information and experiences upon being asked. My sister and I got really real with so many women who were very happy to be able to ask us deeply personal questions about our breastfeeding experiences. Mostly, I loved showing off my massive collection of breastfeeding photos and breastfeeding my baby openly and proudly in front of people who have made a career out of undermining women by telling them they need formula, or shaming them by telling them breastfeeding really must be done under a cover.